ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 27: John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 27, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
John Lannan recorded a season-high eight K's in his last start, a 9-3 win over Atlanta which lifted his record above .500 (8-7) for the first time since he was (2-1) on April 20th. The Braves took a 3-1 lead over the left-hander early, but Lannan, who hasn't been beaten by the Nats' NL East rivals since 2009, bounced back when the Nationals took the lead with a five-run fourth and held the Braves scoreless through 6.2 IP before handing the ball to Henry Rodriguez who threw 2.1 scoreless to close out a 9-3 Nats' win. "He wasn't real sharp early," Davey Johnson said in discussing Lannan's outing after the win, but, "... he seemed like when we came back and got a lead he really got strong. He was crisp, he really pitched a great ballgame."
After going (0-2) in five starts in May, in which Washington was 3-2, Lannan's 6-2 in 12 starts with the Nats 8-4 when the 26-year-old starter takes the hill. After walking four runners per game in each of his previous three starts, Lannan issued just one free pass to the Braves, and the left-hander pounded the strike zone with Washington Times writer Amanda Comak (@AComak) noting on the Twitter that, "Lannan threw 72% of [pitches] for strikes tonight (80-110)," which was the, "most he's thrown for strikes this [year]" outside of the 7/8, "start vs. COL when he was hit in face in 4th."
"I was just happy that I wasn't given them free bases," Lannan told reporters after beating the Braves, "I wasn't walking guys, if they were getting on base they earned it." Once the Nats got the lead, Lannan said, "I told myself to attack the zone more and put the ball in play." Lannan got 13 ground ball outs to go with the eight strikeouts and eight fly ball outs from the 30 batters he faced. "After getting hit in the face (on 8/7)," Lannan said, "I walked 12 guys in three games and I told you guys last week it was unacceptable so I knew I had to put the work in, I told you that and I did that. I told myself that I had to pound the zone no matter what and trust myself and I got back to that today."
The strong start by Lannan was nothing new as Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained this week on the The Mike Rizzo Show Thursday night when he spoke to 106.7 the FAN's Danny Rouhier:
"John Lannan's pitched terrifically for us. I think he's getting better and better as he gets more experience in the big leagues. His ground ball rate (54.1%) is terrific. He's pounding the strike zone. He's pitching with great confidence. Ever since his trip to the minor leagues last year, when he came back up, he was a more focused, more determined, harder-working pitcher than we've ever seen with the Washington Nationals. He's developed a better breaking ball which has helped his repertoire and he goes sinker/changeup and now he goes sinker/curve ball/changeup and it has made all the difference in the world for him and he's really solidified our rotation and [is] a guy that we're counting on for the long-term."
While Lannan's just a game above .500 in the last two seasons (16-15), the Nationals are 28-20 with the left-hander on the mound over the last two seasons. The Nationals turn to Lannan this afternoon as they look for a split with the Rockies before heading to Chicago for games five through seven of the current ten game road trip. If he can beat Colorado today it will be his first win in five career starts vs the Rockies against whom the Nats' '05 11th Round pick is (0-2) in two starts at Coors Field.